Let’s face it. On that unforgettable, history-altering night of November 8, 2016, nobody was quite sure what to expect following the shock-inducing election of Donald J. Trump to the most powerful position in the world. Would this brash, bombastic political novice actually be prepared to make myriad consequential decisions affecting the lives of over 300 million Americans, and billions more around the world?
…Trump entered the confines of the swamp almost alone, elected mostly by the powerless.
There were almost as many opinions of what a Trump presidency would look like as there were observers. There were those who believed he would do just what he promised. Some thought his promises were designed simply to win the election. Others were convinced he would become just another mouthpiece for the status quo. And many saw his election as a sure sign of Armageddon on the horizon, including the hysterical left, establishment media, and most members of the permanent Washington bureaucracy.
Independent and Alone
The most broadly appealing element of Trump the candidate was that he was independently wealthy and self-financed, thus representing something unique in presidential politics: a man who owed nothing to monied interests. But the unfortunate corollary was that nobody owed Trump anything either. Unlike Ronald Reagan, the last revolutionary president who marched into D.C. with a legion of die-hard supporters, Trump entered the confines of the swamp almost alone, elected mostly by the powerless. And that made for uniquely tough sledding from the moment he arrived in the nation’s capital.
With swamp lifers and elite media openly or covertly seeking to end his presidency by whatever means would present themselves, we were forced to first consider the question of whether Trump could even survive in a climate that was so openly hostile to his arrival. But he has soldiered on, defying countless predictions of his imminent demise: Russia-gate, the Comey firing, Stormy Daniels, and on and on. Everything, it seems, is a scandal if Trump is involved.
Out of the gate, the new president’s own party was hardly much help. Most D.C. Republicans had been fearful or even repulsed by the thought of this acid-tongued outsider invading their turf, intent on rocking their world. The debate among dyed-in-the-wool conservatives centered around whether Trump was actually even conservative. Outspoken anti-Trumpers within both the GOP and conservative policy establishment were certain he was not.
Thus, the Never-Trumpers must have been shocked – and silenced – by a study from the largest conservative organization in the world, the Heritage Foundation, which concluded that Trump had achieved more conservative objectives than the gold-standard, Reagan, in the first 12 months of their respective presidencies, and had accomplished almost two-thirds (64%) of his – and their – entire conservative agenda in his first year in The Oval Office.
…he accepts short term pain for long term gain.
Of course, the argument could be made that Trump accomplished at least half of his objectives simply by winning the election and denying Hillary Clinton the opportunity to build on the leftist legacy of president Barack Obama. And it’s worthy of note that Reagan came to office with Democrats in control of both the House, while Trump was gifted with GOP control of both chambers of Congress for his first two years.
Trump was also blessed with twin opportunities to move the Supreme Court in a constitutionalist direction. He delivered Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – with virtually unanimous support from the GOP and conservatives – and may yet get the rare opportunity to seal the direction of the high court for years to come with a third pick. Almost as important, yet overlooked, is the assembly line of new lower court judges Trump has fast-tracked to the Senate for confirmation – 85 to date. The judiciary will certainly be at the heart of this president’s legacy.
From the start, Trump sent forth the word that, after years of a painfully slow recovery from the great recession, America was once again open for business. The America-first climate he has engendered, the game-changing tax reform bill, and the most aggressive deregulatory scheme in American history, have combined to produce a roaring economy, record-low unemployment across the board, and soaring consumer and business confidence.
Trump has launched offensives on multiple fronts to reverse years of neglect, willful blindness, and incompetence in Washington. While he is constantly accused of being uninformed and short-sighted, Trump’s boldest moves may be those which require a long view. From immigration to China to the broader issue of trade, he accepts short term pain for long term gain. He is willing to absorb countless body blows and charges of racism on the partial government shutdown for the sake of attacking the long-intractable “third rail” issue of illegal immigration. He accepts widespread criticism on tariffs today to advance the long-term goal of more equitable agreements with multiple trade partners tomorrow. He is willing to take on a barrage of incoming fire for calling out NATO partners to pay their fair share. He rejected conventional wisdom and finally fulfilled a promise made by his predecessors to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, despite worldwide criticism, because he is convinced they will not serve America’s long-term interests.
His policies are dictated by common sense undiluted by political correctness and the way things had always been done. And the driving force behind all of it is Trump’s willingness to leverage the basic truth that the countries of the world need America more than America needs them.
A Conservative Cabinet
His cabinet, dubbed one of the most conservative in American history, has included hits and misses as in most administrations. Mike Pompeo has been in sync with Trump’s Jacksonian foreign policy after taking over as Secretary of State from Rex Tillerson, who never seemed to understand this president. Similarly, Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow is consistently on the same page with Trump as successor to Gary Cohn, who was not in tune with the president on numerous issues. Betsy DeVos, a controversial choice for Education Secretary, has done yeoman’s work in the area of free speech in academia. Lower-profile members of the cabinet have quietly gone about the work of sweeping change to a stultified bureaucracy.
On the other hand, Jeff Sessions was widely viewed as a feckless Attorney General after recusing himself from the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation, though William Barr may well be a good fit to replace him. Tom Price, seemingly an ideal selection to oversee healthcare reform at Health and Human Services (HHS), and Scott Pruitt, widely acclaimed among conservatives as Trump’s initial head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), were forced to resign amid disturbing reports about padding their expense accounts.
Slowly but surely, Trump is figuring out the handful who are truly with him and the many who are not. He has learned about the few who can get things done, and the many who cannot. His learning curve was undeniably sharp at the outset, but has flattened considerably over 24 months.
Think of how much more Trump might have accomplished if he were not weighed down from the get-go by a federal law enforcement establishment bent on taking him down and the elite media, which went from denying their hysterical anti-Trump bias, to admitting it, to wearing it as a badge of honor. Deep state operatives acted with impunity against Trump’s nascent and disorganized administration. Basic standards of journalism were discarded as quickly as Trump’s rejection of “normal” presidential behavior. The Mueller investigation carries into a 22nd month, still desperately in search of any smoking gun which can tie this president to impeachable offenses.
Trump is famously his own worst enemy at times, but the people who support his policies while criticizing his outsized and often reckless public presence have by now come to understand that you can’t have one without the other. The much-anticipated “pivot” of Trump to a more traditional president is not in the cards. He is not going to change.
In 2016, the voters were willing to accept his shortcomings because of Trump’s audacious promises. The question for 2020 is whether the nation is willing – again – to accept the downside of Trump’s hard edges in exchange for the upside of, not his promises this time, but his actual accomplishments.
Most assessments of a president – or any politician, for that matter – begin with a verdict on whether he has actually delivered on his promises. And contrary to how he was written off by the elite media as simply a showman, Trump has unleashed a remarkably bold, broad, and deep agenda of fundamental, sweeping reforms – just as he promised.
With the exception of his border wall, for which he is willing to risk his political career, and a repeal of Obamacare, which lost by one vote in the Senate, Trump has either achieved or put into motion almost everything he promised in a daring campaign platform supported by 62 million Americans.
Trump has gone beyond the talk and walked the walk, proving himself every bit the disrupter he claimed to be. In first surviving, then thriving in open defiance of odds heavily stacked against him, the same thing Reagan said about his record over eight years as president during his farewell speech to the nation 30 years ago could well be restated about Trump’s first two: not bad. Not bad at all.